The Kansas City Chiefs arrive at the 2023 season opener with a different roster, one brimming with potential but not yet fully expressed. A Super Bowl win looks like water under the bridge for Mahomes and his teammates, who have been working for some time to improve their athleticism and collective cohesion, despite the fact that free agency has brought about several notable changes on both sides of the field. Directed briefly by general manager Brett Veitch, and shared solely with Andy Reid and the coaching staff, the Chiefs have amassed a roster of great athletes, sometimes prioritizing a given player’s athletic performance rather than pure knowledge of his role. At the same time, the GM worked to bring to Arrowhead a solid defensive group capable of making the difference in “problematic” games for the offense. The franchise will also see major staff changes this year, led by head coach Andy Reid, which includes the departure of Eric Bienemy and the promotion of Matt Nagy.
The first major change to the current champions roster can be seen in the new attack of Andy Reid. The offensive line keeps the outstanding central Trident unchanged – Joe Thuney (LG) Creed Humphrey (C) Trey Smith (RG) – but replaces both offensive tackles: former Tampa Bay Donovan Smith will replace new Bengals Orlando Brown Jr. in the LT role, while former Jaguars youngster Taylor will replace Andrew Wiley, who signed with the Commanders in his FA debut. Offensive tackles are very important to protect the QB, especially if the guy guarding Patrick Mahomes (very efficient when he scrambles), is almost always able to pull a rabbit out of the hat when necessary and the offensive line does its job well. This assumption would be fundamental to the foundation of the other great offensive change: the wide receiver (“WR”).
JuJu Smith-Schuster performed well last season, drawing more and more confidence from Mahomes as the season went on, much like former Packer Marquez Valdes-scanting. However, if the latter retains a spot on the team, the same cannot be said for Patriots’ new WR JuJu, and not even for Mecole Hardman, who finished his first 4 seasons in the NFL with 20 total TDs and 2213 yards in 57 regular season games (plus 10 games, 3 touchdowns and 336 yards in the postseason) in the red-gold jersey before becoming a rookie for the NY Jets. In addition to MVS, Mahomes will look to Kadarius Toney, Skye Moore and Justin Watson (a two-year renewal signed in free agency for him) in his WR group and will also be able to count on three new faces — or nearly as many: rookie Rashee Rice, former 49ers and veteran Richie James and second-year Justin Ross, who missed his rookie season due to surgery but always participated in tactical meetings off the field. The latter has very actively participated in every possible mass training session with Patrick, seeking the best athletic position and building a certain relationship with the Texan QB, who was quite surprised by his ability (as declared by the quarterback himself and Andy Reid in various interviews released over the past three months). “Potential” is the key word to describe this group of receivers: in fact, if we leave out Watson, MVS and James, the other 4 have never shown what they can do 100% in an NFL game. Toney has often suffered physical problems in his first two years in the top league, Skye Moore was used almost as a dropper last regular season (though showed good quality at times, such as against the Chargers in Week 11 and onwards), Rashee Rice and Justin Ross never played a game.
The group of tight ends (“TE”) would give more consistency in receptions, having been used heavily (and well) by Reid last season with 13 personnel (1 running back and 3 TEs together on the field) due to some injuries to JuJu, Hardman, and Toney. Travis Kelce, possibly the only person still drunk from the last Super Bowl, is a surprising certainty and Jody Fortson is guaranteed a big role alongside sophomore Noah Gray and veteran Blake Bell. The group of running backs (“RB”) runs on the wings of Isiah Pacheco’s enthusiasm, Clyde Edwards-Helair’s desire for revenge — the Chiefs opted not to activate the 5th-year option — and on the renewal Jerrick McKinnon received after an incredible season in scoring with 10 TDs in the regular season. The latest offensive news is the signing of QB Blaine Gabbert: He will replace Chad Henne, who announced his retirement after the Super Bowl win.
The group led by Mahomes and Kelce has no intention of giving up the mantle of the best offense in the NFL, though there are fewer sureties than in years past. If Skye Moore were to improve as expected and if Tony – a candidate for the WR1 role – were to show more consistency on the pitch, his explosiveness and pace could cause many problems for opposing defences.
The defense assigned to defensive coordinator Steve Spagnuolo is, on paper, better than in years past. After an outstanding season in terms of pressure on opposing QBs, Spagnuolo will be able to rely on a group of young and competitive defensive linemen. Chris Jones is a guarantee, but eyes are on George Karlaftis, the author of a high-profile rookie season, and newcomers Charles Omenihu and Felix Anudike-Uzoma: the former showed good quality in Houston and San Francisco and is back from his career-highs in sacks and tackles; The other is a 21 year old rookie who is a complete passer but still needs to improve a lot in terms of runs scored. Chris Jones and Derrick Nnadi will start as the inside linebackers, likely fighting for space with rookie Keondre Coburn. The linebackers group suffered with the departure of veteran Frank Clark headed to the Denver Broncos, replaced by standout Drew Tranquil, ex-LA Chargers, who had his best season in the NFL with 146 total tackles, 10 tackles for loss, 8 quarterback hits, 5 sacks and one interception. Nick Bolton, Drew Tranquil and Willie Gay will be the 3 starters behind the defensive line, with Jack Cochran and Leo Chenell ready to take their place if necessary.
The 2022 season has been great for the Kansas City cornerbacks, who show a lot of potential, especially since McDuffie, Joshua Williams and Jalen Watson are in their sophomore years. They are three players with great athleticism, very quick and willing to recover in depth if initially beaten by the opposing receiver. To them should be added the newbie Nick Jones and the more experienced L’Jarius Snead, who were able to deliver so much consistency throughout last season and were taken as references by the three mentioned above. The safety department perhaps guarantees less… Justin Reed, coming off an outstanding 2022, returns from a good offseason showing considerable athletic improvement, but he will no longer be able to rely on his department mate Juan Thornhill, the new Cleveland Browns starter. In their place, Spagnuolo will choose between Brian Cook — who he hopes can continue his rise after a good 2022 –, rookie Chamari Conner and former Buccaneers Mike Edwards.
It will likely be an immediately more prepared defense than in 2022, when many players spent a few games getting to know the coordinator’s defensive philosophy more fully: Not surprisingly, the defense improved game after game at the pivotal moment of the season. The goal is to build a top-10 defensive department capable of executing big plays in critical moments and avoiding Gruyère cheese-style defensive holes as much as possible.
The special teams, which had not disappointed in the last regular season, were again fundamental in the playoffs and restarted from the same core. Kicker Harrison Butker, coming back from a poor season (18 of 24 field goals and 38 of 41 extra points) and returning prematurely after injury in Week 1, held his role steady due to a decisive FG at the end of the AFC Championship game against the Bengals and SB LVII against the Eagles. Even more worthy confirmation for bookmaker Tommy Townsend, Pro Bowler and first-team All-Pro in 2022. It’ll be interesting to gauge who will be returning: Rice is a rookie and, if under-utilized as Skye Moore last season, could be the designated special alongside Richie James, who is often used in this role in both Californication and Gotham City.
Andy Reid is a guarantee and he proved it once again last season: The 2nd half against Philadelphia was tactically amazing and super effective, recording 4 drives (3 touchdowns and 1 field goal) to recover a halftime deficit and win his second career ring. As always, dialogue with Mahomes is key, having been collaborating with HC for some time now by designing and proposing offensive plans. It will be interesting to see what concrete role will be played by new offensive coordinator Matt Nagy – former QB coach at KC and excellent relationship with Mahomes – who replaced Washington Commanders new OC Eric Bienemi after a 5-year stint at Missouri. On the other side of the field, there’s the always good Steve Spagnuolo as the defensive coordinator, who looks set to show us as much tactical aggression as he had last season, thanks to interesting new combinations as well.
The Kansas City Chiefs, ultimately, turn up without much change. Same mindset and philosophy of recent era, with great heroes but with huge improvement in defense (On paper) and a new group of wide receivers. If we pause for a moment, we will see a young but experienced group, brimming with talent and not yet fully developed. They don’t have the strongest roster or even the most complete, but with Patrick Mahomes as QB and Andy Reid as head coach, it’s always legitimate to dream big in Kansas City these days.